Will free speech be the final fatality?
On January 14, 2015, exactly one week after the murders at Hebdo for the publication of a Mohammad cartoon on its cover, the magazine is at it again. This time, the cover depicts the Prophet Mohammad with a tear rolling down his cheek, holding a sign reading “Je Suis Charlie”. The caption states, “[T]out est pardonne” (all is forgiven). Hebdo, which normally generates a circulation of 60,000, sold a record 3 million copies of this issue.
But even positive depictions of the Muslim Prophet Mohammad are deemed blasphemous in Islam and are criminally punished in Muslim countries, often by death. Hence, subsequent to “Hebdo 2”, violent protests have erupted throughout the Middle East and Africa.
In Pakistan, demonstrations were organized throughout the country by Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist groups. The largest protest consisted of 30,000 attendees that descended on Karachi, screaming, “Death to France!” and “Death to blasphemers!” They carried signs that said, “Shame on Hebdo”, “If you are Charlie, I am Kouachi” (referring to one of the Hebdo murderers), and “Je Suis Mohammad”. Not content with merely setting French flags ablaze, a group attempted to storm the French consulate. The police broke up the crowd with tear gas, water cannons, and by firing warning shots into the crowd. The clash resulted in twenty three injured and four dead.
The deadliest attacks were in Niger, where at least 45 churches were burned, homes were destroyed, and even a Christian school and orphanage was set on fire. Bibles were torn up and thrown on the ground in a contemptuous show of disrespect. Almost two hundred people were injured and ten people lost their lives.
In Gaza, 200 demonstrators marched onto the French consulate, shouting, “Leave Gaza, you French or we will slaughter you by cutting your throats!” Protestors wore uniforms similar to those of ISIS. As one protestor explained, “Islam…orders us to punish and kill those who assault and offend Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.”
In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood organized a protest of 2000, which also resulted in violence, as did an Algerian demonstration.
In Senegal and Mauritania, protestors burned French flags, while Iranians burned American and Israeli flags in response to Hebdo. To them, everything is the fault of America and the Jews.
In other countries, like Lebanon, Somalia and Mali, protests were relatively peaceful. In Chechnya, hundreds of thousands gathered to attend an event titled “Love the Prophet”. Even in America, Muslims in Texas held a similar event, called “Stand with the Prophet in Honor and Respect”, where speakers blamed “Islamophobia” for Islam’s negative image.
In virtually all the countries holding pro-Prophet protests, the focus was on condemning Hebdo Magazine rather than excoriating Hebdo’s mass murderers. Leaders throughout the Muslim world echoed the sentiment that Hebdo’s “blasphemous” cartoons, “hurt the feelings” of the Islamic Ummah. They demanded that such speech be silenced or made illegal.
For example, after the Pakistani Parliament passed a resolution condemning Hebdo’s “blasphemous caricatures”, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asserted that “freedom of speech should not be used to hurt the religious sentiments of any community.” President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan condemned the cartoon “in the strongest possible terms” and called it “utterly an irresponsible act”. And, asserting a moral equivalency between those who express offensive opinions and those who commit murder, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan proclaimed, “We condemn the provocations against the Muslims and Islamic symbols the same way as we denounced the Paris attacks…. Those who disregard Muslims’ sacred [values] by publishing images attributed to [the] Holy Prophet are in open provocation.”
Not surprisingly, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Hussein also chimed in:
“This insult has hurt the feelings of nearly 2 billion Muslims all over the world. The cartoons and other slander damage[s] relations between the followers of the [Abrahamic] faiths.”
Wording it even more boldly, Ya Lessart, Ansar Hezbollah’s weekly publication, warned that
“the successful mass execution of infidels of Charlie Hebdo is a sign…. to those who have forgotten the verdict against Salman Rushdie and have forgotten these past nine years the crimes committed by infidels of Charlie Hebdo.”
The Muslim world is in a rage, and Europe, especially France, is now operating in panic mode.
France, Belgium and other EU countries are searching for, and finding, outstanding terror cells and thwarting terrorist plots. According to the French government, up to six terrorist individuals tied to the Hebdo massacre may still be at large.
The French government has also deployed soldiers and policemen to “sensitive sites” including Jewish schools, tourist sites, railroad stations, airports and major buildings. French President Hollande is requesting increased measures to clamp down on electronic surveillance and tighten up on jihadist recruitment from prisons and other radicalization-prone areas.
France’s Deputy Prime Minister has (unofficially) declared war on “radical Islam.” Since the murders, France has arrested at least 69 people for speech deemed offensive. Criminal charges have been levied for “inciting or defending terrorism”, which in France can consist of mere speech. For example, the anti-Semitic “comedian” Dieudonné posted a Facebook comment stating, “Je Suis Charlie Coulibaly”, merging the names of Charlie Hebdo and one of the murderers in the subsequent Kosher Café attack. For this comment, Dieudonné sits in jail awaiting trial. The French are also subject to arrest for “public insult based on race, nationality, ethnicity or religion.” Accordingly, numerous arrests have been made for expressing anti-Semitic sentiment, which today runs rampant in France.
In seeming desperation, Hollande announced proposed legislation to hold major social media companies partially responsible for hate speech or “terrorist-related comments” posted on their sites. Though specific companies are not named, most believe that Facebook and Twitter would be among those considered “criminal accomplices” if the bill passes, unless they actively censor internet speech.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration overtly denies any connection of jihadi acts to a religious ideology. Chief Imam John Kerry insists that Islam is a religion of peace and that the biggest mistake America could make would be to associate these terrorist acts with the Islamic faith.
In Europe, however, the protests in support of the Prophet Mohammad and against free expression have sparked a debate about civil liberties versus national security. To the degree that the dialogue pits free speech against national security, the debate is fundamentally flawed. It presupposes, at its root, that stifling free expression on the issue of Islam will appease so-called “radicals”.
Quite the contrary. It only takes a quick glance around the globe to see that countries which have blasphemy laws or related laws to suppress speech on Islam, have more violence, not less, in response to “blasphemy” than countries where freedom prevails. Suppressing speech only emboldens enemies who believe they are entitled to commit heinous acts of violence in response to viewpoints they dislike, all-the-while claiming that speech suppression equals “tolerance” and “respect”.
True tolerance means allowing viewpoint diversity. No idea, religion or political ideology should be exempt from scrutiny or criticism. Moreover, the relinquishment of fundamental freedoms consists of a slippery slope. This war is between freedom and Sharia law. Free speech is merely the battleground. A downward slide will result in dhimmitude and death.
It is imperative that the entire Free World refuse to capitulate on matters of free expression, human rights and equality for all. If principles are forsaken in exchange for “national security” or “peace”, then freedom will constitute the final fatality. As Benjamin Franklin said, (paraphrasing) “Those who sacrifice liberty for security will inevitably lose both.”
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